Art: Environment

Last week when I posted about art that I liked Rich Green asked about landscapes and it is a fair question that deserves a longer response. In visual media such as computer games and movies the environment is a critical element. For fantasy computer games and movies the environment needs to be designed from the ground up, production companies spend a lot of resources just having people create pictures that will be used to guide the production of levels or sets. Yet where is this background, this setting material in DnD?

Well 4E does have some good pieces of landscape art floating around, but mostly the art is dominated by characters, these days often small portrait pieces that are more at home on a CCG character card, or if present the environment is often obscured by all the exciting things happening in it. Sometimes we just need to see pictures of places. Those places might be given names (I like the labelling of pictures that started in the Essentials product line) or they might not. They don’t need to have action scenes, they can have scenes that tell the story of the setting when the adventure isn’t happening.

So here follows some pictures culled from DeviantArt that show the sorts of things I mean, with some comments on why I like these particular pieces.

CX Landscape by Chrisalienart22

Architecture is Culture

One of the reasons that showing settlements in environments is important is because the materials and shapes of the buildings tell us things about the culture of the people and even the environment at large.

Favourite Element: The small magical lights that line the path. They speak of a place where magic like a continual light spell is readily available, even if the grand magics for construction are rarer.

Artist’s Gallery

Gaia Mountains by dingding3

Ruins For Exploring

While settlements tell us about the living culture of a place, ruins tell us about the cultures that have gone before. Graceful towers and arches speak of different things than hard walls and battlements for example.¬† Further when talking about DnDNext one of the three pillars is “Exploration” and so having art that inspires people to say “I want to find out about that place” is important.

Favourite Element: The little details like the statue in the foreground, or the bell cupola in the background, and the way some of the buildings are apparently carved out of the mountain.

Artist’s Gallery (Note it is very sparse.)

Floating Rocks by Marta Nael

Fantastic Locations

Landscapes should provide inspiration for amazing places for adventures to happen. From scenes like the earthmotes with bridges and towers on them like the one here, to more fantastic locations. Consider the Elemental Chaos in 4E, is it easier to understand it by reading a bunch of descriptions or seeing pictures? Of all the places in 4E DnD that deserved to have landscapes that featured the terrain primarily that would be my immediate pick. In fact any location that is outside routine experience (and by routine I mean real world during  human history) deserves more art about the place than about the creatures or adventurers in it. The Shadowfell and Feywild are easier places to imagine with some inspiring pictures to accompany that wall of text for example.

Fantastic locations are where that old saw of “a picture is worth a thousand words” is most applicable for DnD. Taking players out of the ordinary and into the fantastic is done in a glance with a picture, and last longer in memory.

Favourite Element: For this picture it is 2 things, the towers and the birds in the background. This isn’t a place that is easily gotten to, and yet someone has built several towers there! This immediately provokes questions about who lives in them and why?

Artist’s Gallery. (I’d love to see some of Marta’s art in general in DnD, she has an interesting style.)

Fire-lit Thicket by Ralph Horsley


While architecture is culture sometimes we need to see where things that don’t go in for much architecture live, and what their homes tell us about them. From hollow trees in swamps, to volcanic tunnels with obsidian walls and magma streams in the floor these places are part of the world and home to enemies the PCs might have to deal with (one way or another). Do they put out warning signs or is the only warning the uneaten bones of prior meals?

Favourite Element: The warm light of the fire from within the tree, and the goblin thing proudly holding up the catch of the day.

Artist’s Gallery (So much 4E art!)

Landscape Practice by hughebdy

Places to Visit

Aside from ruins, fantastic locations and lairs PCs need places to visit that are not dangerous. While some art should highlight architecture some art can just tell us things about the world and what it looks like.

Favourite Elements: The river that starts up in the mountain and winds down through the picture and the dragon mount (fantasy) juxtaposed against the mundane labourer with the cart.

Artist’s Gallery (a bit thin atm)

Other Inspiring Landscape Art

The following are pictures that hit one or more of the points above that I wanted to share.

Spire Fields by Jemovah-Art

Artist’s Gallery

Castle & City Wall Village by Marta Nael

Fantasy Landscape by SkarValidus

Artist’s Gallery

Snow by Marta Nael

Fantasy Matte Painting by Marta Nael

Landscape by Alayna

Artist’s Gallery

Landscape by Grosnez

Artist’s Gallery

Lost Among the Ruins by Marta Nael

Ghost Quarter by One Vox

Artist’s Gallery


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  1. Jon Schindehette

    Agree. We’ve fallen down on showing the world. It is one of the key items on my list of improvements. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject!

  2. Richard Green

    Thanks for writing this post! I picked up on Marta Nael’s excellent pictures from your last post – Snow, in particular, is a location I want to use in the Pillars of Heaven Mountains in the Parsantium campaign. That’s what I think good fantasy art in RPGs should be for – to inspire the DM and make them think “I want to send my PCs there” or “I want them to run into this guy”.

    Couple of my recent favourites that I posted to my LJ:

    http://richgreen01.livejournal.com/208797.html – from Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

    http://richgreen01.livejournal.com/213381.html – from Neverwinter

  3. ObsidianCrane

    Thankyou for taking the time to read it Jon.

    Rich – glad you liked it. I have at least 1 more idea to go in the series that also fits into that “art to inspire the DM” category. Will be up next weekend.

  4. yusaku

    Great article!
    I miss so much locations. It’s one thing that i am searching to find inspiration for my campaigns…
    I just hope that 5th e will invest more in this neglected subject…

  5. Frank Zweegers

    Nice work, wow…. I really like the castle and wall :)

  1. Friday Knight News - Gaming Edition: 9-MAR-2012 | Game Knight Reviews

    […] you ever consider the landscapes for your gaming worlds? Obsidian Crane @ Daily Encounter apparently does. This week he has a great article with plenty of pictures to inspire you to write (or improvise) […]

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